UN: World Meets MDG on Water Ahead of 2015 Goal




A woman from Pune, Timor-Leste, collects water for her home. The world has met the MDG target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. | UN Photo: Martine Perret

6 March 2012 | The goal of reducing by half the number of people without access to safe drinking water has been achieved — well ahead of the 2015 deadline for reaching the globally agreed development targets aimed at ridding the world of extreme poverty, hunger and preventable diseases, the United Nations said today.

Between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells, according to a joint report by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

Halving the number of people without access to clean drinking water is one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include ending extreme poverty, reducing child and maternal mortality rates, fighting diseases and establishing a global partnership for development. "Today we recognize a great achievement for the people of the world," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said upon the release of the report, entitled Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012 and produced by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

First MDG target to be met

"This is one of the first MDG targets to be met. The successful efforts to provide greater access to drinking water are a testament to all who see the MDGs not as a dream, but as a vital tool for improving the lives of millions of the poorest people."

Catarina de Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, addresses the General Assembly, when it convened during July in order to examine these vital human rights. | UN Photo: JC McIlwaine

At the end of 2010, some 89 per cent of the world's population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, according to the report. That figure is one per cent more than the 88 per cent stated in the MDG targets.

The report estimates that by 2015, some 92 per cent of the global population will have access to improved drinking water.

"For children this is especially good news," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "Every day more than 3,000 children die from diarrhoeal diseases. Achieving this goal will go a long way to saving children's lives."

Children line up at the water distribution centre in El Srief (North Darfur) where the nearest water point is 15 kilometres away. In June, the Darfur International Conference on Water for Sustainable Peace was the first major international effort to build an innovative and sustainable water service system for all communities in Darfur. The conference was a joint initiative of the UN African Union – Assistance Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the Government of Sudan and the various UN agencies and programmes in Sudan. | UN Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran

Mr. Lake cautioned that victory can not yet be declared because at least 11 per cent of the world's population — 783 million people — are still without access to safe drinking water, and billions live without sanitation facilities.

"The numbers are still staggering," he said, "but the progress announced today is proof that MDG targets can be met with the will, the effort and the funds."

Improved sanitation still far behind

The report shows that the world is still far from meeting the MDG target for sanitation, and is unlikely to do so by 2015. Only 63 per cent of the world population has access to improved sanitation, a figure projected to increase to only 67 per cent by 2015, well below the 75 per cent target in the MDGs. Currently 2.5 billion people still lack improved sanitation.

UNICEF and WHO also cautioned that since the measurement of water quality is not possible globally, progress towards the MDG target of safe drinking water is measured through gathering data on the use of improved drinking water sources. Significant work must be done to ensure that improved sources of water are and remain safe, the two agencies stressed.

Water pours into a rice field in Sapa, a part of efforts to increase access in regions of Viet Nam. | UN Photo: Kibae Park

Water, sanitation and hygiene are key to improving health and development

"Providing sustainable access to improved drinking water sources is one of the most important things we can do to reduce disease," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. "But this achievement today is only the beginning. We must continue to ensure this access remains safe. Today, even with this exciting new progress, almost 10 per cent of all diseases are still linked to poor water, sanitation and hygiene."

The global figures also mask massive disparities between regions and countries, and within countries, the two agencies emphasized.

Only 61 per cent of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to improved water supply sources, compared with 90 per cent or more in Latin America and the Caribbean, northern Africa, and large parts of Asia. Over 40 per cent of all people globally who lack access to drinking water live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report also confirms that in cases where water supplies are not readily accessible, the burden of carrying water falls disproportionately on women and girls. In many countries, the wealthiest people have seen the greatest improvement in water and sanitation access, while the poorest still lag far behind.

Fetching water in the Borena zone in Ethiopia's Oromiya region. | UN Photo

The report provides the latest update on rural areas across the globe, highlighting the need for greater attention both to water and sanitation. In rural areas in least developed countries, 97 out of every 100 people do not have piped water and 14 per cent of the population drinks surface water — for example, from rivers, ponds, or lakes.

Of 1.1 billion people who still practice open defecation, the vast majority (949 million) live in rural areas. This affects even regions with high levels of improved water access. For instance, 17 per cent of rural dwellers in Latin America and the Caribbean and 9 per cent in Northern Africa still resort to open defecation. Even the so-called BRIC countries, with rapidly growing economies, have large numbers of people who practice open defecation: 626 million in India, 14 million in China, and 7.2 million in Brazil.

"We have reached an important target, but we cannot stop here," the Secretary-General said. "Our next step must be to target the most difficult to reach, the poorest and the most disadvantaged people across the world. The United Nations General Assembly has recognized drinking water and sanitation as human rights. That means we must ensure that every person has access."



UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on water trucks delivering a crucial lifeline to drought-stricken Melbena Village in the Borena zone of the Oromia Region in southern Ethiopia.


International Decade for Action | Water for Life 2005-2015

Report: Drinking Water Equity, Safety and Sustainability (12MB download)

UN World Water Development Report | 4th Edition